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Request From India:
Is Milk Good For You?

by Helen MacDonald, Dairy Farmers of Canada

The argument that drinking milk is against the natural order of things is irrelevant and asinine. To begin with, the human body produces lactase, whose only function is to break down the milk sugar lactose. Why would many adults continue to produce lactose if drinking milk were ''un-natural''. Furthermore, no humans produce the enzyme alpha-galactosidase which is necessary to break down certain carbohydrates in beans, yet no one claims that eating beans is ''against the natural order of things.'' Obviously, we were ''meant'' to drink milk or we wouldn't produce lactose.

Calves, like human infants, live exclusively on their mother's milk until their stomachs are mature enough to handle food. Cows, unlike humans, are herbivores. Once mature, a cow's digestive system allows her to get all the nutrients she needs (including calcium, phosphorus and protein) from grass and grains. The adult human digestive system is unable to do this well. Cereal grains became part of our diets with the introduction of agriculture, only about 10,000 years ago. That hasn't been enough time to effect the kinds of changes in our genes a diet containing only plant foods would require.

Some people believe that drinking milk is unnatural since almost no other animal consumes the milk of another species. If we were to apply that same logic to everything that humans do that other animals don't, we would find that there are very few things we could call ''natural''. We grow our own food, wear clothes, speak a variety of languages... the list is endless. The fact is that in much the same way we plant and harvest crops to survive, we drink milk for the unique and exceptional nutritional advantages it offers.

Milk-drinking, especially in north-western Europe and the deserts and semi-deserts of Africa and Asia, has a long, long history. Humans have raised ruminants for meat and milk products for thousands of years before recorded time. Dairy cows have not always been the main source of milk. The kind of animal raised depends on climate and terrain. In India and Pakistan, milk is more likely to be from water buffaloes, in arid zones, camels are preferred in mountainous areas, the milk suppliers are often sheep or goats, in very northern climates, elk and reindeer are the milk providers. People depend on milk as an important source of nutrition all over the world. Since the domestication of animals 10,000 years ago, they nearly always have, and chances are, they always will.

It is not a misconception that milk is a rich source of calcium and minerals - that is scientific fact. As for the protein, milk is a moderate source of this nutrient in the proper ratio to calcium to ensure propre absorption. It's true that milk contains negligible amounts of iron - no single food contains every nutrient. But many fruits and vegetables (e.g., mangos, lettuce, cucumber, apricots, grapes, and potatoes) are similarly poor sources of iron - does that mean we should not eat those foods either? Dairy calcium does NOT impede iron absorption. Ms. Ghandi shows her lack of nutrition knowledge with her statement that vegetables are the best source of iron, in fact, most vegetables are a poor source because of low bio-availability. Meat is by far the best dietary source of iron. Ms. Ghandi's ignorance is further displayed by her contention that a bowl of spinach is equivalent to 50 gallons of milk. The iron in spinach is almost completely non-available because of its content of oxalic acid.

The calcium absorption figures for cabbage and cauliflower are grossly exaggerated, and even then their absolute content of calcium is so low as to be irrelevant.

It is inappropriate to claim that ''Asians and Africans'' are lactose intolerant'' - to cite but one example, the Masai of Africa practically exist on milk. Moreover, ''Asian'' is not a race, and the majority of Indians are certainly not lactose intolerant. In many tribal societies in Africa, people are dependent on dairy cows for both food and income. Obviously, they and their neighbours are not lactose intolerant.

Leading exerts agree that milk is in no way related to constipation, asthma or acne. As for kidney stones, it is in fact high oxalate foods like spinach, okra and eggplant that render a person more susceptible to kidney stone formation. The majority of experts recommend MORE dairy calcium to reduce the risk of kidney stones. And again, leading osteoporosis experts agree that milk is absolutely helpful in reducing risk of osteoporosis, not only because of the calcium, but also because of its moderate protein content as well as magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin A.

In a country where high-quality protein is hard to come by, milk is extremely important. And in a vegetarian diet, the vitamin B12, calcium and zinc provided by milk is invaluable.

Finally, the statement that drinking milk ''weakens the body and makes it prone to asthma and cancer'' is ludicrous. As stated previously, milk has no connection to asthma (pollution is something the government might look into), and there is very strong evidence that dairy calcium reduces the risk of colon cancer and whole milk reduces a woman's risk of breast cancer.

Milk is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available to humans who are smart enough to consume it. For someone with no nutrition training to try and dissuade people from using it in order to promote their own ideological agenda is completely irresponsible.
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